Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: March 2014

The American dream captured in a moment

The Wolf family

Last week we were filming for our upcoming “people of indie restaurants” series, and Paul Hesselblad of Capital Club 16 in Raleigh, NC said this….

“Jake Wolf is one of the hardest working men I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s the owner, the chef, and he’s in here doing it harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. And he doesn’t get to spend much time with his family because this is his bread and butter. But one day I was standing at the host stand, and I looked at Jake and his wife, Shannon, and their son Johnny, and they were sitting at a table, having a meal. It was a Tuesday night, the sun was setting, and it shined on the words ‘Capital Club 16’ in the window, and I said to myself, That’s the American dream. It actually exists. That moment when I saw him sitting there having dinner with his family, in his own establishment, I thought, That’s doing it right. That’s doing it with heart. And I thought that this is something I want to do one day as well if I get the chance.”

I gotta tell ya, I got chills when Paul said that. It was a very raw, real, heartfelt story. If you didn’t feel your spine tingle a bit when you read his quote, I bet you will when you see him say it in our upcoming video.

Wil

Two guys and their khakis

Back in 2008 Wil and I dusted off our finest wrinkle-free dress shirts and sports coats and hopped on an expensive flight to Los Angeles. We went because a woman who worked in HR at a large pizza chain had emailed us about the possibility of rolling out Schedulefly to all of their restaurants – I think they owned a few hundred and she wanted an in-person demo. Back then we only had a hundred customers or so and a slightly blurrier view of where our business was headed – so we hopped on a jet. I remember thinking at the time that flying across the country wearing a suit to demo a terribly simply internet based software that I wrote in my underwear seemed wrong – but damn – it was Hollywood!

There are two great parts to this story. The first, is that we got to spend an evening in LA. We started the night having dinner with one of our customers. It was a great independent place and the GM hung out with us at the small bar before we were sat and then spent time with us during dinner. It was fun. We then headed to Sunset BLVD for a few drinks. We hit a couple of bars, enjoyed a few drinks and once we got some courage up we headed to over to the rooftop bar at the Standard Hotel – a famous place where we could certainly see some beautiful famous people. We walked up to the door and there was a guy holding a clipboard. The closer we got to him, the less he smiled. We eventually stood right in front of him while he gave us a once over stare – from our shoes to our hair. Nothing, and I mean nothing, about us gave him any reason to think we would be on that list he was holding….and of course we were not – so we were denied. He didn’t even look for our name. As we walked in defeat down the sidewalk to find another spot – we were laughing at our sorry attempt to get in. I mean we could have tried a tad harder. Instead of having $1100 jeans on – we had $65 j-crew khakis. Instead of a fitted t-shirt and a beanie on – we had on casual fit dress shirts from brooks brothers and sported a couple of nice haircuts. Instead of tattoos, there were none. We would have looked great at a casual Friday business meeting in North Carolina – but a bit out of place at 11:30pm on the Sunset strip. Oh well – we did end up a cool small place sitting right next to Johnny Galecki from “The Big Ban Theory” – who in my mind should have won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Rusty Griswold in Christmas Vacation.

The 2nd great part was our Schedulefly demo. Wil and I found our way to the HQ of this pizza chain at the top of a large sky scraper and were seated in a beautiful conference room that had a giant window perfectly facing the famous giant Hollywood sign on the side of that mountain. So in walks the nice woman from HR that Wil spoke to and introduces herself. I recall her being very nice and appreciated us flying 3000 miles for a meeting. A few moments later we were joined by the Chief Technology Officer of the company – a nice guy. I don’t remember too much chatter before I hooked up the laptop to the projector. About 15 minutes later – I was done. It was all over – no more clicks to make. After a few moments of him taking in what he had seen he said “You’ve built a nice system, but it seems too simple. It seems like something is missing.” Awkward silence followed and I recall asking what was missing and then listening to how complicated their organization has become and how hard it is to control costs and manage employees and blah blah blah. We chatted a bit more and then we left. Funny thing is – I think they really liked the idea of simple tools – but it was too late for them. Complicated needs complicated I guess…and since we were not interested in being a complicated business ourselves – it wasn’t a good match.

On the plane ride home – Wil and I debriefed over some tired peanuts and a tiny glass of diet coke. We felt a tad bit stupid for traveling so far for a 15 minute meeting with a customer who was never going to be right….but we fist bumped when we realized the CTO’s comments were actually exactly what we needed…..and the night getting denied in Hollywood was worth the trip.

Wes

"the people of indie restaurants" video series coming soon…

We are super-excited to announce our upcoming video series, “the people of indie restaurants.” It will feature not only owners, as with our Restaurant Owners Uncorked series, but also servers, cooks, managers, bartenders and other people that work for some of the thousands of incredible independent restaurants we serve.

The idea came after we put together our short indie tribute video. We realized we needed to do more than tell the stories of indie restaurant owners, but also tell the stories of the people that work for them. We thought it would be interesting to film people talking about why they work for independent restaurants, why they love serving, or cooking, or tending bar, or doing whatever they do, and what passions they have outside of work, what dreams they have beyond the restaurant business, or whether they dream of staying in the biz as far out as they can imagine.

We recorded our first interviews on Monday, and they were incredible! An owner and his wife who view their restaurant as an extension of their home; a manager/bartender who rides vintage motorcycles as a passion and dreams of owning his own restaurant one day; a server who plays the keyboard in several bands and sees parallels between the connection she builds with her audience while playing on a stage and the connection she builds with her customers when she’s serving; and a cook who also plays bass guitar and compares being creative and trying new things while cooking to being creative and trying new things while performing live on stage: “You know right away when you’ve messed up.”

We’re going to keep filming Restaurant Owners Uncorked because we love doing it and the videos have been very well received. But a few times this year, we’re going to put out vids for this new series, to point a spotlight on some of the millions of stars who shine across the indie restaurant world.

The Schedulefly Crew

Karma and trust

Lisa Siegel, Wil, Julian Siegel

Like so many of our amazing restaurant customers and the places we’ve filmed for our video series, Riverside Market & Cafe in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. and Capital Club 16 in Raleigh, N.C. are both very popular, fun, successful restaurants. And both operate with environments of karma and trust.

The owners of both restaurants – Julian and Lisa Siegel of Riverside Market & Cafe, and Jake and Shannon Wolf of Capital Club 16 – believe that what goes around comes around, so they lead by the example of working hard and treating their staff members with genuine care and respect. And they believe that most people have a strong innate desire to be trusted, so if you give them the chance they will embrace that opportunity and make sure your trust is warranted. I’d say it’s no coincidence that the employees at both locations work hard for the owners, treat each other and customers with care and respect, and earn the trust they’ve been given.

At both restaurants, there was no sense of fear. No fear by the owners that employees will take advantage of them if they don’t put in systems and rules to prevent them from abusing the trust. And no fear that they have to micromanage the staff to get them to work hard and perform. Nope, none of that. Fear is not what drives these owners.

Will there always be exceptions to these beliefs? Absolutely. Some small percent of the people they bring on board will take advantage of not being micromanaged to loaf around and not work hard, and a smaller percent might abuse the trust that has been placed in them. But it’s clear that the Siegels and the Wolfs care more about the 99% of the people who prove their beliefs in karma and trust to be warranted, not the 1% who prove them wrong.

And because of that, when you walk into these restaurants as a customer, you get a clear sense that the owners and staff are happy and at peace with their business, and it shows in the food on the plate, the amazing quality of genuine service, and the relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere each restaurant offers.

Here’s to karma and trust.

Wil

The secret to restaurant success (or success in any business)

Over the last three years I’ve interviewed dozens of successful independent restaurant owners for Schedulefly’s Restaurant Owners Uncorked book and video series, and here’s what I have learned is the secret to success in the restaurant business: there is no secret! You’ve simply got to figure out your own personal formula for success through trial and error and tinkering. That doesn’t make things easy, but its the reality you’ve got to accept if you truly want to succeed.

When we decided to start interviewing owners for the book, I believed there would be common threads woven throughout their stories. I assumed we’d be able to construct a narrative around some set of characteristics or philosophies they all shared. Would they all be optimists? Or have grit? Or passion? Or a focus on putting customers first? Or on putting employees first?

Most books and articles about success tell us that if we just follow the steps or the path the author is laying out for us, we will win. In an autobiographical scenario, the author will either convey his/her own story as an example and walk the reader through what he/she learned on the way to success. Though any discerning reader would view that one person’s perspective as perhaps interesting, but narrow. More often though, we read about success from authors who’ve found multiple successful people that fit into a pattern. The people the author references have all done these three things, or followed this specific path, and they all succeeded. Therefore, you can replicate their success by simply replicating what they’ve all done.

We enjoy these types of books or articles because they simplify something that seems so daunting: how to be successful at some endeavor. All you need to do is use the process they offer, or follow their three of five or ten “simple” steps and, voila, you will succeed as well! How easy!!!

Yet every one of the authors who spin these yarns miss a critical aspect: silent evidence. Silent evidence is simply the collection of evidence of people who used the same seemingly alchemic process the author has outlined, yet didn’t turn their business into a success. Rather, they failed.

For every person who used grit to be successful, there may be ten others whose gritty efforts came up short. For every passionate winner there may be twenty passionate losers. We don’t ever really know how many people followed the same steps or took the same path that success books and articles and stories lay out – and failed. Why? Because we never interview people who failed. Rather, we look for commonalities in the people who’ve succeeded and construct a narrative around those commonalities. And in the process we ignore those same commonalities in people who have not succeeded.

It may seem odd that I am writing this post, given that we produce a popular video series which shares advice and wisdom from successful restaurant owners, or that we published a well-received book which contains a collection of interviews with successful owners. But this lack of a clear formula for winning is exactly why our book doesn’t have a central point, but rather lays out each owner’s story without our commentary. And it’s why the videos often contain contrasting opinions from the owners,and we make no remark on them. We’ve learned that while one extremely successful owner might tell you to make sure to leverage social media at every chance, another equally successful owner might not have ever sent a tweet. One might tell you to focus on volume over margins, while the other might say its all about profit. Customers always comes first over here, employees always come first over there. There is simply no right answer.

Ultimately what I’ve learned while helping run a small business and from listening to so many successful restaurant owners is that the path to success is opaque. Success is complex, it’s nuanced. Or perhaps, more importantly, each person’s path and each business’s path, is different. The only secret formula is the one you figure out for yourself and for your business, and it only works for you, and the only way to construct it is through trial and error. In fact, most successful restaurant owners will tell you they’ve learned more from failure than from success. Making mistakes, and being self-aware enough to learn from those mistakes what not to do is often more valuable than trying to learn what to do. I can assure you the best lessons we’ve learned at Schedulefly came from things we tried that failed. So mistakes and failure have been a really good thing, because we have narrowed our focus and know so well what won’t work that we are enabled to focus more sharply on the things that do work.

While this commentary may seem to make the path to success more daunting, I believe that once you learn not to follow the footsteps of others, but rather to attempt to blaze your own path – and expect, and even relish in, the road blocks and stumbles along the way – you actually give yourself better odds of doing what you set out to do: figuring out how you will succeed.

Wil

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